Dick Hoyt, who ran marathons while pushing his son, died at 80

Dick Hoyt, who became a famous face who pushed his son Rick in a wheelchair during road races across the country, especially the Boston Marathon, died Wednesday at his home in Holland, Massachusetts. He was 80.

His death was announced by the Boston Athletic Association, which organizes the Boston Marathon. His son Russ said the cause was congestive heart failure.

Rick Hoyt was born in 1962, a quadriplegic with cerebral palsyunable to control or speak his limbs. “We have long learned how to interpret our son’s smiles and nods,” writes Dick Hoyt in his 2010 book, Devoted: The Story of a Father’s Love for His Son. “But just as good as everyone in the family was at figuring out what Rick needed, we still only made trained guesses.”

But in 1972, engineers at Tufts University built a computer with which Rick could communicate by selecting letters with a tap on his head. His first words were ‘Go Bruins’, which reveals a passionate love of sports.

In 1977, Rick asked to be involved in a five-mile benefit flight. Although his father was not a competitive runner, he pushed Rick all the way into his wheelchair and took last place.

“When my dad and I are up there, a special bond forms between us,” Rick Hoyt said. The New York Times in 2009 using his computer voice program. “And it feels like there’s nothing Dad and I can do.”

Although they are most associated with the Boston Marathon, and have become the two revered and inspiring figures in the city has completed more than 1,000 races, many in astonishingly fast times.

Their fastest marathon time was in 1992 at the Marine Corps marathon in Washington and Virginia: 2 hours 40 minutes and 47 seconds. At that time, Elder Hoyt made first place in the age group 50 to 59, despite his extra burden.

They ran the Boston Marathon almost every year from 1980 to 2014. Initially they ran unofficially, because officials fail to classify their hybrid entry as runner or wheelchair rival.

In 2013, they were stopped before they finished due to the deadly bomb attack at the finish line. They expected it to be their last Boston Marathon, but they returned in 2014 to successfully complete the race for the 32nd time.

They also contested triathlon fights, including six at the grueling Ironman distance, in which their best time was 13:43:37. Dick pulls Rick into a boat for the swimming legs, and they ride a tandem cycle for the bike segment. They also cycled in 1992 and ran across the country.

Using the computer he communicated with, Rick graduated in 1993 with a degree in special education.

Dick Hoyt was born on June 1, 1940 in Winchester, Massachusetts. His father, Alfred, worked as a second-hand car salesman and his mother, Anna (Jaworski) Hoyt, was a homemaker. Dick grew up in nearby North Reading and was captain of the North Reading High School football team.

He married his high school sweetheart, Judy Leighton, the principal cheerleader, in 1961, shortly after they graduated. She continues to find Camp for children, which allowed children with and without disabilities to go camping together.

He served in the Army National Guard and Air National Guard for 37 years. After gaining notoriety and his son’s running achievements, he began a career as an inspirational speaker, with as many as 100 speeches a year.

In addition to Rick and Russ, he is survived by another son, Rob; five sisters, Arlene, Alice, Barbara, Ruth and Kathy; three brothers, Phillip, Herbie and Jason; five grandchildren; and a great-grandchild. His wife died in 2010.

After Dick Hoyt retired from running, Rick Hoyt continued to race with Bryan Lyons, a dentist. He died last June at 50.

Rick Hoyt, now 59, was told of his father’s death on Wednesday. “It was definitely hard news for him to hear,” Russ Hoyt told The Boston Globe

In 2013, Dick and Rick Hoyt were honored with a bronze statue near the starting line of the Boston Marathon. “Yes you can!” the memorial plaque next to the statue reads.

Alex Traub reported.

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